Canadian Consulting Engineer

Coping with narcissism in the workplace

September 25, 2020
By Nicole Attias

A true narcissist is apathetic and manipulative.

We often hear the word ‘narcissistic’ thrown around very loosely. There are various levels of meaning on the spectrum of narcissism and each of us has some of these traits. At times, we all can become self-absorbed and behave as though the world revolves around us. However, for the most part, we eventually go back to reality and show empathy toward others.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is at the far end of the spectrum. It is both dangerous and detrimental to our everyday dealings. NPD is characterized by a long-term pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance, excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy toward other people.

Indeed, for individuals with this disorder, empathy does not exist. They put on a fake persona to mask their very weak sense of self.

A true narcissist is apathetic and manipulative in both work and personal situations. It is their way of life. They can be great liars and charmers when you first meet or interact with them. Perhaps they decided to work with you solely for their own personal gain. Perhaps you make them look or feel better.

Should you try to surpass or compete with anyone like this, they will be the first to spot it and sabotage your own efforts toward success. And these individuals are dangerous because they feel no remorse. It is not part of their makeup.

We often hear about corporate sales professionals, by way of example, having a big ego. This does not mean they are narcissistic. Having a big ego and a huge drive to succeed can actually work positively for you, to a certain extent. It gets new business moving along.

When someone is narcissistic, on the other hand, it is often strategic and backhanded. We are conditioned to not speak about this issue, let alone identify its seriousness in the workplace. We assume a member of our team is just difficult or too self-absorbed. We are all so consumed with getting ahead, we’ve normalized bad behaviour from our own associates, peers, bosses and employees.

You know you are dealing with such individuals when your environment feels uneasy, heavy or uncomfortable. The true test is when your own voice, thoughts or opinions are regularly cut off, ignored or completely shut down. Ideas clash. Disagreements happen. If you are an employee in a working environment that feels stifling or belittling, it may well be time to pack your bags and walk away.

Unlike those around them, individuals with NPD actually enjoy their disorder. It is not worth your sanity to feed into them. Whether the attention you give them is positive or negative, they will seek it constantly. Your only way of winning is walking away.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the following are nine criteria to look out for as signs of NPD:

  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance.
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  3. Belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by—or should only be associated with—other special or high-status people and institutions.
  4. Need for excessive admiration.
  5. Sense of entitlement.
  6. Interpersonally exploitative behaviour.
  7. Lack of empathy.
  8. Envy of others or a belief others are envious of them.
  9. Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours and attitudes.


Understanding these criteria does not mean you should begin diagnosing your co-workers or colleagues of NPD. What it does mean is if something feels off, it probably is.

Trust your gut. Walk away. It may be time to redefine your own definition of success in the workplace.

In the consulting engineering sector, you also need to be mindful with your clients, as this type of behaviour would never fly over the long haul. If narcissism is happening internally at the office, you can assume it is also happening externally with existing and prospective clients. Stay aware during team meetings and any other types of situations that require regular collaboration.

Nicole Attias

Author Nicole Attias. LinkedIn photo.

Nicole Attias has extensive business development experience, from cold calling to networking in commercial real estate. She specializes in delivering presentations, sales coaching and cold-call scriptwriting. For more information, contact her at (416) 831-0356 or and visit


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